North Dakota, in terms of fossil fuel wealth, is said to be the Saudi Arabia of the United States. According to U.S. Geological Survey estimates, more than 3.6 billion barrels of oil are puddled in the Bakken shale. The state has embraced the industry.
In an article about the North Dakota oil rush in The Business Times, Wes D’Aponti, president of Environmental Audit and Assessment in Grand Junction said, “I’m just amazed at the activity. Equipment, people, activity in oil and gas. Man camps everywhere. It’s like it was here five years ago.”
Many companies that rode the last big wave of natural gas development in Colorado are now doing business in North Dakota. Oil is more than five times the price of natural gas and companies are finding a lot of work loosening up “tight oil” reserves in North Dakota.
North Dakota is cranking right now thanks to advances in energy extraction, namely hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. This opens up a lot of potential for drilling, even around here. We’ve seen it with natural gas but oil is where the money is at right now.
“The shale/tight oil boom in the United States is not a temporary bubble, but the most important revolution in the oil sector in decades. It will probably trigger worldwide emulation over the next decades that might bear surprising results — given the fact that most shale/tight oil resources in the world are still unknown and untapped. ... Thanks to the technological revolution brought about by the combined use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. is now exploiting its huge and virtually untouched shale and tight oil fields, whose production — although still in its infancy — is already skyrocketing in North Dakota and Texas,” according to Leonardo Maugerit of Harvard’s Kennedy School.
So we have this new technology and it is likely that other countries will want to emulate what we are doing. So let’s take a look at how they do it in North Dakota. We can even take a really long view, say from outer space.
NASA recently released some high definition images called “Earth at Night.” In the photo of the United States it is easy to see what the oil boom is doing in North Dakota. The state’s well pads are so dense that they are easy to see burning from space at night. A by-product of the oil extraction is natural gas. In North Dakota oil is so lucrative and regulation so loose that the oil companies simply “flare” the extra gas from their wells. They burn it instead of capturing it because they can.
How much are they burning? According to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, oil wells in North Dakota flare enough gas to heat 500,000 homes each day. The oil companies have concluded that this gas is not even worth capturing. State regulations don’t require companies to capture gas. North Dakota is burping and belching gas like a fat man at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Here in Colorado, SG Interests has just filed to drill two natural gas wells in the area known as Thompson Divide. Locally there is resistance to allowing drilling in this very nice, mostly wild and sensitive place. At this point it might be worth asking why. Why do we need to drill now in this sensitive area?
It’s not like consumers need the gas from Thompson Divide. Just over the hill in North Dakota they have so much natural gas that they throw it away. Why not wait and save that precious Thompson Divide gas for our children’s children?
Even though the global science community has sounded the alarm that climate change is real and that the human race is threatening itself by burning fossil fuels, our environmental regulations allow for this state-wide flaring that makes the North Dakota countryside look like a major city at night from outer space. On one hand we are told that regulation is killing business but then we see what business does without regulation.
When SG Interests pierces that dirt and injects at least 336,000 gallons of “treated” water into the rocks on Thompson Divide it will be obvious from here that we have lost control of ourselves and have allowed even our most lovely places to be destroyed by corporate interests.
Steve Skinner thinks we should get our gas from North Dakota where they disdain their environment already. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.